Most people associate that “end of summer” feeling with Labour Day weekend or kids going back to school, but if you’re a film buff in Toronto it’s the start of the Toronto International Film Festival. For one week every September the city is buzzing with anticipation of great films, celebrities and if you’re lucky to get invited, memorable parties. Most of that buzz happens at the TIFF Bell Lightbox a.k.a. TIFF Central.
This new home for TIFF (since 2010) is an impressive five-story complex in the heart of the Entertainment District in Toronto, at the corner of King and John. The building holds a three-storey public atrium, 5 public cinemas, 2 galleries, 3 learning studios, a centre for students and scholars, a bistro, a restaurant and a lounge. From the bistro to the galleries, state-of-the-art cinemas, restaurants – one can spend an entire day here…so why not?!
Best way to start the day is with a bite at Oliver and Bonacini’s Canteen. The space is bright, airy with a clean and casual vibe which is quite refreshing from the other options in the neighbourhood. It has a good amount of seating in the back and a beautifully stocked takeout counter with a long harvest table in the front for a bite-on-the-go.
Executive chef, Jason Bangerter, brought in from O&B’s Auberge du Pommier, created a menu that covers all the bases – from eggs all kind of ways, to braised meats, pastas and thin-crust pizzas. Not to mention the mac & cheese and one of the best burgers I’ve had in the city. The menu changes with the season to keep things new and interesting, and one of my new favourites this summer was the tomato and watermelon salad.
If it’s too early for a movie, take a walk around the Lightbox and check out one of the exhibits. Currently, the CIBC Canadian Film Gallery is offering the X-Men Master exhibit. This exhibition is devoted to the work of makeup artist and special effects designer, Ontario native, Gordon Smith. And if you’re a James Bond fan, the 50 Years of Bond Style exhibition is starting this weekend.
If you’re not into prequals of semi-tolerable action films, or can’t stand the smell of overpriced popcorn and sticky floors, you will love the Lightbox theatre. It caters to serious film junkies without being pretentious about it. It offers a variety of festival films, international films, the classics, lots of Canadian content, and even free screenings. The space is insulated for optimum sound. The largest, Cinema 1, has a performance stage for musical guests and Q&As.
The concession stand, ahhh the concession stand… It’s like flying coach all your life and suddenly being upgraded to business, you never want to go back. The popcorn is actually fresh and at a reasonable price, and the staff is pleasant, helpful and actually make eye contact, which is rear at the Cineplex.
The best way to end the day is at O&Bs LUMA, the upstairs restaurant which I would describe as the older, more sophisticated sister of Canteen. The menu is eclectic with a bit of everything for everyone, and a good selection of wine and cocktails.
There are only a few places in Toronto that make a steak worth talking about, and LUMA is one of them. So tender and perfectly done, you can slice it with a regular knife!
But if you don’t feel like sitting down to a fancy dinner and more like relaxing with a drink or two, I recommend the lounge connected to LUMA. It’s brighter and a bit more casual.
The TIFF Lightbox was described to be a place where the community could get together and celebrate film and film making. So far I think it has definitely lived up to that expectation. It’s a unique space that is aesthetically pleasing and just what the theatre going experience should be. A great addition to Toronto’s art and culture scene.